Starbucks Stumbles, We Eat Schadenfreude Pie

It’s enough to make even Motley Fool cheerleader Alyce Lomax choke on her coffee. Consider — 600 store closings (or 12,000 job cuts) 1000 additional job cuts at the home office a first ever quarterly corporate loss, and diminished expectations for the rest of the fiscal year. But wait, there’s more! Remember Starbucks’ purchase of the Clover brewing system? How they’ve made this innovative brewing system unavailable to every other coffee shop on the planet so they can have it all to themselves? Yeah… well, there’s a little problem: “…I’m standing in line at a hilltop Starbucks in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood — one of Clover’s beta sites. I do a taste test: a cup of Clover coffee versus brewed coffee. A young barista tells me they’re out of the first two specialty coffees I request and suggests instead Starbucks’ everyday blend, called Pike Place. During brewing, the barista stirs the grounds into the Clover with a clunky rubber spatula — not a metal whisk — and pours the concoction into a crummy paper cup. I smell, I sip, I inhale. I can’t tell which cup of coffee is which — and neither is anything special. Is it the beans? My palate? After a few minutes, I finally pick it out: This coffee tastes a little bit like hype.” Thus, even while we empathize with folks who’ve been cast loose from their paychecks (sorry, really… and best of luck) witness our collective grim delight in watching the coffee giant get its comeuppance. Let me offer two cautionary notes… Firstly, Starbucks’ rising tide lifted with it the status and visibility...

Coffee Notes from All Over

NYTimes: Tasting the Future of Starbucks Tasting Clover-brewed coffee at Starbucks with George Howell. (Mr. Howell is not an easy mark.) Coffee’s Benevolent Mr. Bean Profiles Stumptown’s Duane Sorenson. (No mention that Stumptown is ditching the Clover in the wake of Starbucks’ acquisition of the...
Starbucks’ Shiny New Shamrock

Starbucks’ Shiny New Shamrock

Listen… Hear that? . . . . . . That’s the sound of thousands of coffee retailers gasping for air, reeling from a sucker-punch. These are folks who’d aspired to get themselves a Clover… the commercial, cup-at-a-time coffee brewer that’s been described as the signal development to usher in the age of brewed coffee, the way to change how we think about brewed coffee, and — most earnestly — as a major point of differentiation between independent coffee shops and the behemoth that is Starbucks. These are folks who’ve just found out that Starbucks has decided to acquire the company that makes the Clover brewer. That’s right… Goliath just bought David’s slingshot. And that odd tap-tappity-tap noise you hear? That’s the sound of every single coffee retailer who has a Clover on order speed-dialing Seattle to see if they’ll still get theirs. But honestly, how could Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz resist? After all, it was Howard who issued the much-leaked clarion call that railed against the commoditization of the “Starbucks experience.” Howard wanted romance; Howard wanted theatre; Howard wanted the smell of ground coffee to once again permeate Starbucks stores. And most recently, Howard showed us all he wanted a consistent experience, by shuttering every single retail Starbucks for a day to retrain its barista staff. The Clover brewer delivers all that — and most importantly — it delivers a really, really great cup of brewed coffee. Provided, that is, that you start with really great coffee beans. So far, the couple hundred Clover brewers in the market today can be found at boutique (call ’em Third...

Could a Coffee Maker Be Worth $11,000?

Clover’s sitting pretty. They’ve picked up positive ink in the New York Times, Economist, The Atlantic (warning: PDF). And just yesterday evening while you were loosing sleep over the presidential primaries (you were, weren’t you… admit it!) Paul Adams posted a refreshingly cogent piece — How the Clover is Changing the Way We Think About Coffee — on Slate. He covers a bit of ground — gets in a good plug for Cafe Grumpy, takes a swipe at the “soy-foamers at Starbucks” — and eventually buries his lede on page two: I’m becoming a Clover addict, just as I feared. It’s not the tasty coffee itself that’s drawing me in—although that caffeine euphoria certainly colors my mood. It’s the joy of tinkering, really delving into the possibilities of a coffee bean in a way I’ve never considered before. After several more cups, each with their own quirks, it’s time to go: The baristas have finished sweeping up around our feet and are clearly eager to leave. But there’s one more cup I want to try: I dial in the same settings that produced cup No. 2, the greatest success so far. Forty-four seconds later, there it is, the exact same delicate, floral-scented brew I remember. That’s the consistency you pay for. Quoth Jerry Espenson:...

Green Mountain’s Game-Changing Kenya AA

Rating: [rating:4/5] I have long been ambivalent — or at least something of a fence-sitter — where the whole single-cup coffee thing is concerned. Single-cup brewers are, by design, a study in compromise between convenience and quality. Do you want cup-at-a-time accessibility? Or do you want the full range and nuance of aroma, flavor body and balance that only grinding and brewing fresh-roasted beans can offer? I’d kinda like both. But the Clover is out of my price range and wouldn’t fit in my kitchen anyway. I’ve had my hands on what I believe to be most every at-home single serve coffee machine on the market. That would include (in no particular order) machines from Senseo, Tassimo, Keurig, Nespresso, Melitta, Bunn, Grindmaster, Flavia, Juan Valdez, and Black & Decker. Have I missed any? Oh yeah… the Aeropress. While I’m long overdue in writing a full-blown roundup of the single-cup machine landscape — judging by the numbers of folk who flock to single-cup posts in the Bloggle Archives, anyway — this isn’t that article. Instead it’s about a coffee Green Mountain has just released for the Keurig brewer. A coffee that’s something of a game-changer. Green Mountain’s Kenyan AA (the traditional, whole bean version) has won accolades from Kenneth Davids at Coffee Review, where he awarded it a whopping 96 points and described it thusly: A coffee at once voluptuous and austere. Delicately complex aroma: flowers, chocolate, tobacco leaf, lemon grass. In the cup an amazingly rich, wine-like acidity, sweet flowers, and a gently crisp, dry berry fruit. Hints of chocolate re-emerge in the cleanly long, almost perfect finish. Nice....

More on the Clover

Chris Tacy rambles passionately (okay, he gushes a little bit) on the Clover, and what it might could mean — maybe — for brewed coffee in a specialty roaster / retailer shop. …I love the idea of offering the consumer a choice. They can have any of the coffees – brewed to order – right then. That, to me, really changes the dynamics here. It starts (finally) really moving us away from the whole “coffee is coffee; coffee is a commodity” thing. It really creates in the mind of the consumer the idea that coffees taste different from eachother. And perhaps most of all – it treats the coffees with...
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